Archives For Jon M. Sweeney

 

Whose biography is it anyway?

 
A Review of

The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started
Jon M. Sweeney

Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Scott E. Schul
 
 

It is ironic that a man who left behind so few written records has become the subject of an almost limitless degree of scholarship. Ever since the first “official” biography of Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano in 1229, scholars have been attempting to describe, interpret, and make sense of the man nicknamed the Poverello (or “Poor Little One”) and the Franciscan movement he birthed. Contemporary biographers recognize the extent to which Francis has already been analyzed and so they generally begin their books with a lengthy justification for the presence of yet one more book on the subject. Jon Sweeney is no exception. In his prologue to The Enthusiast, Sweeny acknowledges the existing breadth of information about Francis, but argues that each generation tends to understand and even form Francis in its own image. Accordingly, Sweeney justifies The Enthusiast by arguing that it tells the well-known story from a uniquely different perspective, namely, through the lens of one of the most difficult and complex relationships in the life not only of Francis but of the Franciscan movement.

Continue Reading…

 

I wrote brief reviews of the following books that were released this week:

by C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books
 
 
Becoming Wise:
An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

Krista Tippett
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Imagining a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.
Krista Tippett, the host of public radio’s On Being, weaves threads of her own story with sizable clips of interviews from the show to offer us a rich vision of what it might look like for us to become wise in the twenty-first century. This book is especially recommended for those who yearn for something deeper than the daily grind of consumerism in which we are all too often ensnared. Tippett helps us loosen our bonds and imagine a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.
 

You Are What You Love:
The Spiritual Power of Habit

James K.A. Smith
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Taking a hard look at who and what and how we love.
We are constantly being formed by the choices we make and by our day-to-day relationships. This is the central idea at the heart of You Are What You Love. Given that we are always being formed by the people and things surrounding us, Smith argues that the church community should be at the very heart of our formation as Christians. This important book challenges us to take a hard look at who and what and how we love.

 
Continue Reading…

 

Part of Who We Are As Human Beings

 
A Review of

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus:
Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible
Chester Brown

Hardback: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]
 
Reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney
 
 
I can’t imagine how this graphic novel of biblical stories is going to sell a lot of copies. Sex and violence are common in this genre, but not so much serious biblical criticism, and pages 173-270 here are all afterword, notes, and bibliography, in which author/artist Chester Brown recounts (in the same tiny, hand-drawn type of the comics themselves) his indebtedness to scholars like John Dominic Crossan and Yoram Hazony, and makes learned references to works as ideologically divergent as Strong’s Concordance and Lynn Bauman’s translation of The Gospel of Thomas. Chester Brown is what one might call an independent scholar. He says he was led to this subject because of a passion for sex-workers’ rights.

Brown is a Canadian by birth. He grew up in Quebec and now lives in Toronto. He’s 55 years old and has been writing comics since Ed the Happy Clown in the early ‘80s. After that strange work, which garnered him a sort of underground following, he began writing autobiographical comics, and that’s continued to this day. I wrote a bit about this trend (not about Brown, but others) in one of my recent review articles in America magazine.

Continue Reading…

 

Here are a few new book releases from this week that are worth checking out:

(Where possible, we have also tried to include a review/interview related to the book…)

  

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire

By Alan Kreider

NEXT BOOK >>>>>

Continue Reading…

 

The Death of Elite Culture?

A Review of 

Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society
Mario Vargas Llosa.

Hardback: FSG Books, 2015
Buy now:  [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney

*** This review originally appeared in our quarterly, print magazine ***
Are you a subscriber?

T. S. Eliot wrote nearly seven decades ago: “Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith.” Eliot’s point was made again by European thinkers and church leaders in 2002-03 when the EU constitution was drafted without any mention of faith. Whenever such discussions arise, I always find it strange that the heritage of bloody violence, anti-Semitism and antipathy toward women and minorities that are also central to the cultural heritage of Christianity in the West go unacknowledged.

Continue Reading…

 

letters-teresa

 

A Dark Vocation.

A Review of 

The Letters: The Untold Story of Mother Teresa

A film by William Riead, written and directed by William Riead.
115 minutes. Rated PG.
Opens in Theatres Dec 4.

[ Watch the trailer ]

Reviewed by Jon M. Sweeney

 

The title of this film, in theaters on December 4, comes from the revelation eight years ago of Mother Teresa’s “dark” letters. The world was shocked when the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light appeared, and discovered that she’d lived and worked among the poorest of the poor for a half century feeling much of the time as if God had abandoned her. Reading those letters, some thought they reflected negatively on her work, as if she were a hypocrite for talking to people of God’s love and care while harboring doubts as to God’s presence in her own life. Others thought she was suddenly more human, as well as more saintly, for persevering in spite of feeling spiritually empty and alone. The screenplay of the film allows the “dark” letters to tell her story.

Continue Reading…

 

When Exactly Did Francis Save the Church?

A Feature Review of

When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages

Jon M. Sweeney

Hardback: Ave Maria Press; 2014
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Adam P. Newton

 

Anyone attempting to write a book about St. Francis must face this key issue at some point: we know very little about him outside of a few hagiographic biographies that his followers penned in the decades after he died. He left behind a limited written record of his own intentions for how Franciscans should live, and his ideas were so radical that even his own brothers strayed from those principles while he was still alive. Is it a good idea for us to adopt his standards of living in the 21st century as a way to evoke a more Christ-like way of operating in the world? Certainly, but the ideas of Francis are so potent that they’ve superseded the facts about his life, transcended reality, moved to the world of myth and legend.

Continue Reading…

 

The Pope who Quit (One Year Ago)

BenedictXVI

 

 Jon M. Sweeney

 

I woke up on February 11, 2013 and was as shocked as everyone else. At least for the first few seconds.

By 10:30am I was sitting in the offices of CBS News in Chicago, being interviewed by Jay Levine for the evening news. He was asking a lot of questions about my book published a year earlier, The Pope Who Quit. What did I know? When did I know it? I didn’t predict that this would happen, I told Jay. I simply suggested that it could happen. There was a precedent, and there were signs.

Continue Reading…